Nurses Launch Nationwide Strike over Deep, Chronic Staff Shortages

The Nurses’ Union launched a nationwide strike Monday, July 20, following the refusal of the government to meet their demands to fund as many as 2,000 new nursing positions. A day earlier, an inconclusive meeting intended to forestall the strike by nurses around the country was held between the head of the union, Ilana Cohen, and Directory General of the Ministry of Finance, Keren Terner Eyal and other ministry and union officials, but without the glaringly absent Finance Minister Israel Katz. According to a statement issued by the union, the discussion dealt with “the severe shortages and impossible loads being placed on the shoulders of nurses.”

“We explained the situation to the Director General of the Ministry of Finance. It should be understood that the shortage of nurses did not begin with the coronavirus pandemic. The responsibility is that of the Treasury as they had sufficient time to solve this. We are on strike now,” Cohen told journalists. The strike involves the complete stoppage of non-critical services. Nurses are not present at the country’s hundreds of clinics. In hospitals all non-urgent operations have been postponed, and the nursing staff in each such institution is working according to a weekend regime.

Striking social workers conduct a sit-in on Dizengoff Street in Central Tel Aviv, last Friday, July 17. The demonstrator with the megaphone is the head of the Social Workers' Union, Inbal Hermoni.

Striking social workers conduct a sit-in on Dizengoff Street in Central Tel Aviv, last Friday, July 17. The demonstrator with the megaphone is the head of the Social Workers’ Union, Inbal Hermoni. (Photo: Social Workers’ Union)

According to Cohen, “the Ministry of Finance had a full year to end the nursing crisis. If they would have placed human lives at the top of their scale of priorities, acted responsibly, and allocated the funds for the hundreds of positions required for nursing staff in hospitals, the community and public health, we would have been prepared and ready to deal with the epidemic, including the epidemiological investigation system. In the Finance Ministry, they must change their attitude and immediately stop their abandonment of the nurses, their lack of concern for the health of the medical staff, and the neglect of the patients – citizens of Israeli.”

Last week Cohen wrote to Finance Minister Israel Katz, saying, “The nurses are collapsing. It is no longer possible to continue like this. The system is down, period. What we need now is significantly increased staff.” There was a shortfall of hundreds or as much as a thousand staffers, she said last week. “There is a great shortage in the number of nurses relative to the number of hospital beds we attend.”

On Sunday and Monday, July 19-20, thousands of social workers demonstrated outside government offices in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa Beersheba, and other cities throughout Israel. On July 6, the social workers’ union launched an open-ended strike of the entire welfare system after repeated negotiations with the government failed to produce a change in their working conditions. “We are being attacked with violence and cruelty,” said the head of the Social Workers Union, Inbal Hermoni, at the start of the strike, lamenting her colleagues’ “shameful salaries and unreasonable burden… The entire system has been neglected, dried up and abandoned by the government during the last ten years” adding that “Finance Ministry official just want to wreck social services and shut them down” and insisting that there had been no choice but to go on strike. Today, Tuesday, July 21, a mass solidarity demonstration with striking social workers will be held from 10:30am in Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv.